We need your help here! Please be kind and compassionate in your answers, and if you know anyone who works with kids in situations like this, please share this post with them and encourage them to comment. Thank you and purrrrrs!
Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
We just adopted our first pet on Saturday, a two-month-old male tabby that my nine-year-old daughter has wanted for seven years. The problem I have is not with the cat, but with my two disabled sons. They are non-verbal, very mentally delayed, and they think we just adopted a great new toy and do not see this small cat as a living being. They have had almost no prior exposure to small animals, but we did not anticipate this behavior. We have tried for the past six days to teach the boys to be soft with kitty, but they like to use the kitty to act out things they have seen in movies, swinging the cat by his tail, picking him up by wrapping their hands around his little throat. The boys get in big trouble for this behavior but they are not deterred, not even by kitten scratches. We have given the cat his own medium-sized room full of toys and things to jump on, and the door to that room is locked so he can be safe, but he does not want to stay in the room, he wants out to play. We go in the room to play with him, my daughter and husband and I, but when we leave, he meows and meows and we feel terrible. He can only come out with absolute and complete supervision on my part, or I cannot be sure the boys will be safe with him. They have twice found our keys to get in and get the kitty themselves. My question is, am I over-reacting and not giving this enough time? I would like my boys to learn to be appropriate with this cat, but not at the cat’s expense. If this is not a safe environment, I would rather take the cat back to our no-kill animal rescue while he is still young and cute and able to quickly find a good home. What do you think?
Siouxsie: Wow, Mckenna, we really feel for you and your family. We applaud you for doing everything you can to keep this kitten safe, and for asking for help too.
Thomas: None of us have experience working with profoundly mentally disabled children, so we’re going to do the best we can for you, too. As you saw above, we’ve asked people who have experience with pets and mentally disabled children to comment, too.
Bella: From what you say, it does sound like this kitten isn’t safe in your home. The first thing we’d recommend is calling the rescue group and explaining your situation. Rescues may know of resources that can help you and your family keep this kitten and keep him safe.
Siouxsie: We recommend having a serious talk with your daughter. I’m sure she can see what’s going on, and I imagine it’s breaking her heart.
Thomas: Children understand a lot more than adults often give them credit for. We think it’s worth it to talk to your daughter and ask her open-ended questions about the situation. Kids can be pretty darn smart and intuitive, and she might have some ideas that maybe hadn’t occurred to you about how to keep the kitten and keep him safe.
Bella: And if she doesn’t, and she feels sad about how the kitten is being treated by her brothers, maybe she’ll understand that it might be better to let the kitty go back to the shelter before he gets too traumatized by how he’s being treated — and while he is still young and cute.
Siouxsie: If you do end up having to take this kitten back to the shelter, maybe you would be willing or able to bring her to the shelter to volunteer as a “cat socializer” — someone who takes time to pet and play with the cats.
Thomas: If the shelter will let you bring her to volunteer, even if she can’t have a cat at home, she’ll be able to love and play with cats, and she’ll be doing a wonderful thing by making the cats more adoptable by getting them used to children.
Bella: That in itself could make your little girl a hero to all kinds of cats. It’s not a substitute for a cat purring on your lap or sleeping next to you at night, but it might help her to feel better because she’s helping kitties find homes.
Siouxsie: With our experience and knowledge, this is the best advice we have for you. But we’re going to reach out for help in every way we can in order to find people who might be able to offer more help. Hopefully we’ll be able to connect you to other parents in your situation and they might be able to provide more advice based on experience.
Thomas: So please — if you’re a parent of a special-needs child or if you work with special-needs children, leave a comment. We need your help to help Mckenna and her family.
Bella: And if you happen to be in a Facebook group or support forum for special-needs families, please share our post there. It breaks our heart to think that a little girl might not be able to have a cat because her little brothers aren’t safe with him. Purrs and thank you.